BATTLE FOR AZEROTH
Warcraft’s best expansion in YEARS
DEVELOPER BLIZZARD ENTERTAINMENT • PUBLISHER IN- HOUSE www.battle.net
When Rodrigo, the Freehold flight master, offers me a sum of gold to get revenge on the pirates that have been bullying him, I can’t refuse. Rodrigo asks me to fly around on one of his giant parrots and drop bombs on the brigands. I soon realise Rodrigo wasn’t being literal. At the push of a button, a green turd erupts from the parrot’s rear and splats on a pirate. Far below me, I hear a scream, “Argh, my eye!”
Welcome to World of Warcraft, a place where I’m shitting on people one minute and an hour later slaughtering civilians who have become infected by Lovecraftian brain slugs. Don’t get me wrong, though, I love that WoW flashes between serious and goofy. And Battle for Azeroth embraces that tonal duality with conviction.
BLOOD IN THE WATER
During the finale of Legion, the previous expansion, the titan Sargeras stabbed his continent-sized sword into the planet, wounding it so deeply that its crystallised blood began bleeding to the surface. Without a common enemy to unite them, the Horde and Alliance are at each other’s throats and Azeroth’s blood, called Azerite, turns out to be the perfect weapon. After an explosive pre-expansion event that spanned two cataclysmic battles, the warring factions set sail to find allies in their war.
For the Alliance, that means trying to repair its relationship with the human maritime superpower of Kul Tiras. The Horde, meanwhile, ventures to the lost continent of Zandalar to treat with the ancient but powerful Zandalari troll empire. Giving each faction a separate continent to level on massively increases the scope of this expansion. Now that I’ve taken the time to level both a Horde and Alliance character to the new cap of 120, Battle for Azeroth almost feels like two expansions.
Kul Tiras and Zanadalar are some of the most exquisitely designed locales in Warcraft’s history and the high point of Battle for Azeroth so far. After Legion’s Broken Isles, which felt like a disjointed greatest hits of Warcraft lore, I adore how consistent yet diverse each of the new islands is.
Take Kul Tiras, for example. This maritime island is cut up into three zones that feel like organic extensions of one another, while still being individually identifiable and memorable. The bleak tundras of Tiragarde Sound house the capital city of Boralus, torn by political infighting. Drustvar, to the west, is a mountain range surrounded by spooky forests where villages are slowly succumbing to the nefarious magics of a witch coven. To the north, though, is Stormsong Valley, the verdant breadbasket of Kul Tiras where Cthulhuesque sea priests practice their rites in the shadow of a kraken carved out of a mountain face.
By contrast, the Horde levelling continent of Zanadalar couldn’t be more different in its aesthetic. It’s a lush jungle full of towering spirit dinosaurs, golden Aztec cities and swamp-dwelling blood trolls trying to free their blood god from an ancient underground prison. Though the zones are so different, each is wonderful in its own way. In particular, I love the swamps of Nazmir in Zandalar, where there’s no shortage of haunting vistas like the corpse of a massive tortoise being gruesomely hollowed out by blood trolls, or a terrifying blood red moon that hangs just above a creepy temple for the dead. Nazmir is dark and sinister and I can’t get enough of it.
World of Warcraft’s strength has always been in building fantastical landscapes like Kul Tiras and Zandalar, but the characters that populate these worlds are just as well realised. In the absence of an immediate world-ending threat, Battle for Azeroth compensates by putting the internal struggles of its nonplayer heroes in the spotlight. It’s a gamble that works. Both sides have great characters, but I love the story of Jaina Proudmoore, who returns to centre stage as a strong but emotionally wounded person haunted by her past decisions. Alliance players will embark on a long quest to reunite Jaina with her estranged mother and the conclusion is
QUEST FOR GLORY
Though the zones are new, how I explore them hasn’t changed. Levelling a character is a familiar routine of heading to a new area and picking up quests that lead to even more quests. But by further building upon Legion and Warlords of Draenor’s excellent quest design, Battle for Azeroth is far from a grind.
While the actual objective of quests might be mundane in the grand scheme of things (like dropping bird turds on unsuspecting heads), there’s a great deal of variety in each quest, and better voice acted dialogue and cutscenes keep the whole experience trucking along at a pleasant rhythm. It’s mindless fun, sure, but it’s hard to care because few quests are ever the same. One minute I’ll be infiltrating blood troll camps to poison their domesticated bats and the next I’m controlling a wickerman colossus to singlehandedly devastate an entire army of stone soldiers. There’s not a real challenge to any of these activities but the variety keeps things interesting. Each zone’s quests slowly weave together into an overarching story that can be surprisingly dramatic – especially when taking the time to read every bit of dialogue offered by quest givers.
It’s good Battle for Azeroth’s quests are fun to complete on their own because, so far, the rewards for levelling up new characters have been one of Battle for Azeroth’s biggest weaknesses. While the design of the new armour and weapons looks great, the way they affect abilities is underwhelming. Unlike previous expansions, Battle for Azeroth doesn’t add any new abilities or talents to classes as they level up to 120. It makes earning that coveted next level feel pointless.
Character progression is instead tied to the Heart of Azeroth, a fabled necklace that players are given early on in the expansion. This necklace absorbs Azerite, healing the planet’s wounds while also levelling up and becoming more powerful in the process. Reaching certain levels in the necklace unlocks the latent powers of new Azerite Armor, special pieces of gear that can be earned through a variety of tasks – the most powerful of which is saved for dungeons and raids. Each piece of Azerite Armor has three concentric rings that contain a choice of various ability-enhancing traits. To unlock each ring, my Heart of Azeroth has to first reach a certain level and then I can choose which trait I want to permanently unlock.
It’s a cool idea that is clearly inspired by Legion’s Artifact Weapons, which also required farming a resource to unlock traits that changed how certain abilities worked. The difference here is that, comparably, Azerite Armor is boring. During my race to level 120, every piece I encountered would typically offer one of two choices and neither was exciting.
Higher-end Azerite Armor from dungeons and raids offer more traits with more powerful effects, but while levelling my tank I was usually choosing between a temporary shield or a bit of extra damage – neither of which really improves how well I fight. The good news is that unlike Legion’s abysmal Legendary items, a painful system driven by RNG that Blizzard spent years trying to fix, Azerite Armor is structurally sound. It’s not as needlessly complex and makes switching class specialisations less of a chore because I’m not having to grind for multiple weapons. If Azerite Armor just had more exciting traits it’d be a lot more rewarding.
Because Artifact Weapons and all their powerful abilities were retired at the end of Legion, my Demon Hunter actually feels weaker in Battle for Azeroth and Azerite Armor does a piss poor job of filling that weapon-shaped hole. And gods help you if you’re playing an enhancement shaman or one of the class specialisations that didn’t receive a much-needed redesign before Battle for Azeroth launched. So many of Legion’s powerful systems are now stripped away, leaving certain class
Battle for Azeroth doesn’t add any new abilities or talents to classes as they level up to 120.